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February 18, 2009

Microfracture for McGrady

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 2:50 am

What a month for injuries in the NBA. It continued this evening, with Tracy McGrady telling ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith that he will undergo microfracture surgery on his troublesome left knee. When I heard last week that McGrady was considering shutting it down for this season, microfracture was my suspicion.

Microfracture research has been one of my pet projects, and in general I feel that the “danger,” so to speak, of the surgery is overrated. The research shows that microfracture treatment has gradually become much more successful in the NBA. However, I think we can draw a distinction between situations like Greg Oden‘s or Amar’e Stoudemire‘s where a defect is discovered somewhat randomly or as the result of specific trauma to knee cartilage and situations like this one where microfracture is something of “a desperation heave” (as Will Carroll put it) after a long period of difficulty with the knee.

As I wrote about Oden entering this season, the research also shows that patience is a key to coming back from a microfracture. The Rockets would be prudent to not count on having McGrady at the start of next season; if he can get back, that’s a blessing. McGrady himself must be careful not to jump the gun on his rehab because of his desire to get back and prove himself healthy before he hits the open market as a free agent in the summer of 2010.

So where does Houston go from here? The biggest downside might be ruling out a rumored trade with the New Jersey Nets that would have swapped McGrady for a healthy, productive Vince Carter. Even a hobbled McGrady is certainly still a better scorer than his replacements (Von Wafer and Brent Barry), but his defensive shortcomings are such that the Rockets have been no better or worse with McGrady in the lineup this season (per 82games.com).

Houston has experience with this sort of thing before, having ripped off a near-record winning streak last year while losing Yao Ming for the season. To overcome the loss of McGrady, the Rockets will need to become stingier on defense. So far, Houston is a surprising eighth in the league defensively. That’s a little bit of a fluke–the difference between them and fourth-place Philadelphia is negligible–but the Rockets are nowhere near the NBA’s elite at the defensive end, the space they’ve inhabited in recent seasons. The defense is liable to improve with Ron Artest and Shane Battier healthy and in the lineup together on the wings. If they defend as Daryl Morey envisions, Houston can compete even without its star player.

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